Aug. 5 (UPI) -- Christian groups based in Japan recently took part in a state-sanctioned church service in North Korea amid tensions following Pyongyang's multiple rounds of weapons tests.
Choson Sinbo, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper based in Japan, reported Monday Japan-based organizations Korean Christian Church in Japan and the National Christian Council in Japan visited North Korea from July 27 to Aug. 1.
North Korea has consistently ranked as one of the world's most religiously repressive societies. U.S. nonprofit Open Doors has said the regime ranks number one in the world for religious persecution, a statement Pyongyang has denied.
The delegates met with North Korean members of the Korean Christian Federation and engaged in "deep exchange," the Choson Sinbo said in a report that included photographs of a worship service.
The church service took place at 10 a.m. July 28 at Pongsu Church in Pyongyang, with members of the three organizations in attendance. The church has previously received foreign visitors, including the Rev. Billy Graham.
The North Korean Protestant church's pastor, Song Chol Min, said the gathering signaled progress.
"We passionately welcome our brothers and sisters visiting Pyongyang who come here to worship on the Lord's Day," Song reportedly said.
Participants at the service prayed for peace and unification of the Korean Peninsula, sang hymns, delivered sermons and built new friendships, the Chosun Sinbo said.
Kim Jong-hyun, chairman of KCCJ, said he "felt a familiarity" with the North Korean participants, who "prayed and used the Bible."
"We were moved by their singing of hymns in the same language as ours," said Kim, an ethnic Korean based in Japan.
Japanese Christians, including Takuya Iizuka and Michio Sano, reportedly apologized for Japan's discriminatory practices against Koreans and for the colonial past, according to the report.
Japan's occupation of the Korean Peninsula resulted in Korean migration to Japan, including the recruitment of forced laborers.
Some of the Korean migrants who resettled in Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II, were remembered at a memorial for Korean victims of the atomic bomb, the Mainichi Shimbun reported Monday.